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(James Osen)

Nine Ways to Lure a Lover, Orchid-Style

Beauty, mystery and deceit—the Smithsonian's collection of nearly 8,000 live orchids has it all

Gimme Shelter

Catasetum orchids
(James Osen)
Male euglossine bees collect fragrances from flowers. “The males with the most complex array of fragrances get all the ladies,” says Mirenda. But when the bees land on male Catasetum orchids, they also get a swift wallop on the head. “The flowers basically mug their pollinator by shooting really large pollinia at them when they touch a little trigger switch in the flower,” says Mirenda.

After being whacked, as a reaction, the bees retreat to shelter—in this case, to the Catasetum’s female flowers (above). The helmet-like flowers, found in Central America, actually resemble the nests that the bees build. There, while feeding on nectar, the bees deposit the pollen.

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